"It is early morning of the first Tuesday in November. This is an American city. A city that is not very large, not very rich, not very old. It is situated in the western part of the United States, in California. Its name is Riverton. The woman in the car is Mrs. Dawson, one of Riverton's fifteen thousand residents. She is principal of Public School No. 2, but today there will be no classes held here. For this is Election Day."
Tuesday in November is a film in simple language made primarily for overseas audiences, many of whom did not enjoy the right to elect their own governments. It dramatizes both the participation of citizens in the electoral process and the 1944 campaign for the Presidency, linking these two threads into a quasi-religious quest characterized by unchallenged belief, ritualistic behavior and culminating in a mass announcement before a large crowd. The simplicity expressed in the understated narration and many of the images was a conscious choice dictated by the non-English-speaking intended audience, but for us now underscores the film's stature as a morality play.
Dramatized, animated and newsreel footage are all mobilized to invoke emotionally charged themes. Solemn honesty is linked with the American electoral process very early in the film as the poll officials convene: "First they remove the last traces of their campaign activities, their party buttons. Then they take the oath." Then the first voter of the day -- a milkman -- enters the booth, but he leaves us behind. "That's as far as we can go. Remember, this is a secret vote. No one ever sees another person mark his ballot." Though he may be simply a milkman, in our system he is invested with great power: "When Bill Johnson is finished, he has elected an entire government, from top to bottom. That is, if the majority of voters think the way he does about it." Newsreel footage follows; without comment, we see African-Americans lining up to vote, probably in New York City. We return to Riverton, where actors playing voters are waiting in line at the polls. One brushes his sleeve against the chalkboard, elegantly segueing into yesterday's history lesson, where two previous wartime elections, 1864 and 1916, were discussed, proving that this is a country secure enough to hold elections in wartime. Newsreel footage shows masses of people turning out for campaign events (what we now call "retail politics"); the crowds continue to increase until the end, when New York's Times Square is filled with people waiting for the election returns.
As a member of Hollywood's progressive community in the Forties, John Houseman was attracted to documentary film as a means of influencing social change. Wartime found him engaging in propaganda activities for the U.S. government. Tuesday in November was designed to explain the American political system and election process in a simple way that could be easily internationalized. Houseman assembled a skilled production team whose commitment to the ideals shown in the film was clear. Unlike most other films that celebrate American democracy, this one avoids appealing to mythology or to abstract ideals. That Tuesday in November shows the everyday business of elections as a routine, unquestioned exercise in democracy speaks for its honesty and authenticity.
The Office of War Information films have been criticized for idealizing and oversimplifying the reality of American life, and there is no question that they do so. Tuesday in November ultimately is a case of wishful thinking, or about how things ought to be. Much of what we see is neither truthful nor completely candid. Elections were being stolen that year of 1944. African Americans were effectively forbidden from voting in many states. Roosevelt was not strongly opposed in the wartime election of 1944. And it would be fair to say that the film's emphasis on mass events and politicians taking their campaigns directly to the people belittles the effect of the mass media in manipulating the public. The mobilization of communications technology in the service of fair and speedily reported election returns is at best a by-product of a media establishment that was set up to manufacture consent.
But, by the time the results are being calculated and disseminated, it no longer seems to matter. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the returns. Virgil Thomson's score and the searchlights sweeping the crowd vaguely suggest that they are awaiting some sort of visitation. Ultimately, the elegance and authority of the film lends credence to its optimistic view of our system, making it one of those rare propaganda films that has the power to seek out and stir whatever trace of idealism still may survive in your mind. "All over America tonight, the people are waiting to learn whom they have chosen to govern them for the next four years. Toward midnight, the final results are announced. A nation of a hundred and forty million has elected a government."
This version of the film, uploaded on 2 April 2012, was digitized from a film transfer which was made from a new 35mm print, which itself was derived from nitrate materials held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archives in Hollywood, California. Preservation work was done by Mark Toscano.
Produced by United Films for U.S. Office of War Information, Overseas Branch, 1945. Released through the Office of Education, Federal Security Agency, for limited educational use in the U.S. 17 min., 16mm (originally produced in 35mm). Producer: John Houseman. Dramatic scenes directed by John Berry. Assistant Director and Post-Production Supervisor: Nicholas Ray. Screenwriters: Philip Dunne (animated portion), Howard Koch (dramatic and documentary portions). Musical score composed, orchestrated and conducted by Virgil Thomson and played by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Animation sequences by John Hubley. Produced and edited through the facilities of Paramount Pictures. (Also known as The American Scene: A Series, Number XIII). According to Houseman, this film was translated into twenty-two languages. A description of its production can be found in his autobiography Front and Center (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979, pp. 124-128).
July 11, 2012 Subject:
Brings up topical subjects.
OPINION: This is an interesting historic archive. Aside from the typical squeaky clean artifice, several points come to mind.
(13:55) The money used in media promotion time on the air was "payed for by all parties and evenly distributed…?" Though I doubt it was then, now it's a total disaster, when public figures spend most of their time procuring cash, sometimes from very small wealthy interests, to line media's pockets so they can produce inane drivel that can stick to the bubble-headed lowest common denominator, and used to vote on life-changing adjustments in our lives.
(09:09) Also, aside from any accidental inclusion of other ethnicities, the only African-American in the cast is conveniently placed so that she can be edited out without affecting continuity or voice-over when this was shown in the old deep south.
(04:00) The film describes the three branches of government with concision and with the seriousness it deserves. It is easy to compare concision and seriousness with attempts to "entertain to maintain interest" in today's typical style of media production. Where did our ability to concentrate go? That's a can of worms beyond this little gem.
Finally, I see this careful production as a stepping stone to post-war artifice, when looking back at the 1950's "amazing" prosperity, it is easy to ignore, aside from events like Pearl Harbor, that in much of the rest of the industrialized world, putting one rock on top of another rock was considered an improvement.
The music gets an A +. Kudos to the affecting part for bells toward the end.
I want one of those little stamps that leave an "x" on a ballot.
Riverton, California in the script is close to Lake Tahoe.
Some of the animations were made with paper cutouts. You can see the shadows of the lamps cast by some of the ovals.
June 29, 2012 Subject:
Dewey For President!
Subject: Dewey For President!
Very nicely put together short about the intricies of putting an election together in small town America in 1944, we follow a regular office (Campaign buttons off please!) as people stroll in to cast their ballots. We see who the people are voting for (eg the upper house, the lower house) and we also see some fantastic early convention footage. All of this is narrated by your Uncle Ben, the calm one who sat you by the fire and told you stories? Anyways, the narration is calm, which makes you very comfortable and at ease. A surprise! Highly reccomended!